Anoush, seated at the computer, meets with Community Health Volunteers for a discussion about their health work in their village in Armenia. Photo credit: Narine Vardapetyan/UMCOR Armenia
By Narine Vardapetyan
March 27, 2014—Gender stereotypes are deeply rooted in Armenian society, especially in rural areas. Significant differences persist in the roles and status of women and men in Armenia, influenced by patriarchal culture and traditions. Women are not seen as decision-makers in the public sphere. They are perceived to be dependent on men, which fosters in them a lack of confidence. Women are perceived as subservient because of their role as care-givers and housewives, while men are viewed as ensuring the family's social and economic stability.
The country office of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Armenia, along with other international and local organizations, makes great efforts to change this situation. In particular, the Prevention of HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and Tuberculosis (TB) project implemented by UMCOR Armenia contributes to the development of a more tolerant society by promoting gender equality, gender norms, and healthy gender relations.
This story is about Anoush K., a woman who lives in the village of Hatsik in Armavir province. She works as a nurse at a local health facility.
When UMCOR representatives visited the village for the first time to introduce the project, Anoush showed keen interest and readiness to inform community members about it. She said there were many young women in the village whose husbands did not allow them to work in the nearby city, and that their lives were confined to housework and taking care of children only. Meanwhile, many men spent most of their time abroad, doing hard physical work in Russia and trying to earn a living. Anoush was sure the local women would be happy to participate in the project.
At the next visit of the project staff, a group of enthusiastic women, eager to become UMCOR’s Community Health Volunteers (CHV), waited in the local ambulatory clinic. Anoush was appointed the coordinator of the group. As a participant in the training, she asked numerous questions and drew other participants into the discussion. Some young girls who also participated felt embarrassed about talking about such sensitive topics, but Anoush helped the trainer to create a friendly atmosphere.
A Natural Community Health Leader
In Armenian villages it is unusual for women to discuss with men topics like HIV/AIDS, STIs, and sexual behavior. Nevertheless, Anoush, being enthusiastic and sociable by her nature, actively disseminated information on HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB prevention among community members, including men, explaining risk factors related to their work abroad. She also encouraged other CHVs to do the same.
When UMCOR’s Mobile Medical Team started its work in the village, Anoush visited people’s homes and told them they could get quality medical services free of charge. Due to her efforts, many patients attended the village ambulatory clinic for examinations and treatment. Anoush was one of the first patients to visit the STI specialist and to undergo voluntary counseling and testing. The number of patients in this community, particularly male patients, who ultimately applied for medical assistance to the Mobile Medical Team was among the highest recorded by the project.
The group of CHVs led by Anoush worked with the community during the whole lifetime of the project. Raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB and the means of prevention, they helped villagers improve their health and decrease their vulnerability to those infections.
The volunteers’ activities earned them respect not only among female population but also among the male population of the village. The men came to understand that they really were at high risk of being infected and that this could affect not only their personal health but the health of their families as well.
CHVs expressed their gratitude to UMCOR and Anoush for involving them in the project and providing them with a way to actively participate in the community life. The women vowed to continue their volunteer work to ensure the health and safety of the community.
“This project has totally changed our lives,” said one of the men of the village. “It gave us a great opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about several serious infections like HIV, STIs, TB, Hepatitis B and C, as well as the possibility to improve our overall health. But most of all, it changed our community members’ opinions about a woman’s role in society and made us more open-minded.”
When you give to UMCOR Sustainable Recovery and Development, Advance #3021951, you support life-changing programs like this one in Armenia. Remember One Great Hour of Sharing on March 30. Find resources here.
*Narine Vardapetyan is UMCOR Armenia HIV/AIDS program manager.